Former U.N. Expert: The U.S. Is Violating International Law by Attempting a Coup in Venezuela

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As President Trump announces that the U.S. will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s new leader and sitting President Nicolás Maduro breaks off relations with the United States, we speak with a former U.N. independent expert who says the U.S. is staging an illegal coup in the country. Alfred de Zayas, who visited Venezuela as a U.N. representative in 2017, says, “The mainstream media has been complicit in this attempted coup. … This reminds us of the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003.” We also speak with Miguel Tinker Salas, professor at Pomona College and author of “The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela” and “Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue to talk about the situation in Venezuela. Is this a coup d’état? We’re joined by Alfred de Zayas in Geneva. He visited Venezuela in 2017 on behalf of the United Nations. At the time, he was the U.N. independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. Still with us, Miguel Tinker Salas of Pomona College in California.

Alfred de Zayas, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what we are seeing right now in Venezuela. Are we seeing a coup d’état unfolding?

ALFRED DE ZAYAS: First of all, Amy, I am quite honored to be on your program. I endorse every word that my knowledgeable colleague, Professor Tinker Salas, has just said.

As far as a coup d’état, well, it is not a consummated coup d’état. It is an attempted coup d’état. Now, we all believe in democracy. Your program is called Democracy Now! Now, there’s nothing more undemocratic than a coup d’état, and also boycotting elections. As you know, there have been 26, 27 elections in Venezuela since Chávez was elected in 1998. So, if you want to play the game, you have to participate in the elections. And if the opposition refused to participate in the elections, they bear responsibility for the situation that has ensued.

Beyond that, I want to endorse the words of my Secretary-General Guterres, who has called for dialogue. I very much supported the mediation carried out in 19—I’m sorry, 2016, 2018, by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the former Spanish prime minister. And that actually would have led to a sensible compromise. The text was on the table, was ready for signature. At the last moment, Julio Borges refused to sign it.

Now, is it a coup d’état? Well, this is a matter of semantics. We have here an unconstitutional situation in which the legislature is usurping competences that belongs to the executive and to the judiciary. The judiciary has already declared all of these actions and declarations of the National Assembly to be unconstitutional.

Now, I am not a constitutional lawyer in Venezuela, but I did have the opportunity, when I was in Venezuela in November, December 2017, to speak with all stakeholders, with members of the National Assembly, of the Chamber of Commerce, of the university students, opposition leaders, opposition NGOs, PROVEA, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the OAS representative there, etc., and, of course, with all the ministers. Now, the function of a rapporteur is not to go around grandstanding. The function of the rapporteur is not naming and shaming. The function of a rapporteur is to listen and listen, and then to study all the relevant documentation and arrive at constructive proposals, which I formulated in my report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council last September 10, 2018. Now, I formulated many recommendations, and actually the government already implemented some of my recommendations even shortly after my visit, because I also gave the foreign minister of Venezuela, Mr. Arreaza—I gave him a six-page confidential memorandum upon my departure. Some of that was reflected then in my report.

But my concern—and I think it is a concern of every person who believes in democracy and in the rule of law—is to calm the waters. My concern is to avoid a civil war. One thing that I told to members of the opposition is that you simply cannot topple the government, and Maduro is not simply going to roll over. I mean, there are 7, 8, 9 million Venezuelans who are committed Chavistas, and you have to take them into account. What are you going to do with them if you topple the government through a coup d’état? What are you going to do with these people? These people are most likely going to fight. Now, we don’t want fighting. We don’t want shedding of blood. Therefore, the only logical avenue now is to call for dialogue. And I hope that the Vatican and Mexico and Uruguay will lead the way.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the role of the media in what is happening right now in Venezuela? You would have no idea, if you watched the networks in the United States—I’m not just talking about Fox, I’m talking about CNN and MSNBC—if you watched in any regular way—

ALFRED DE ZAYAS: No, I know. Of course.

AMY GOODMAN: —what is unfolding, the level of involvement of the United States, right through to this video that Vice President Pence posted right before Juan Guaidó announced from the streets that he was the president, the head of the National Assembly, the Nancy Pelosi equivalent.

ALFRED DE ZAYAS: Well, the mainstream media has been complicit in this attempted coup. The mainstream media has prepared, through a conundrum of fake news, an atmosphere that the public should accept this regime change imposed by the United States on the people of Venezuela because, ultimately, it’s supposed to be for the good of the Venezuelans.

Now, this reminds us of the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003. Now, the mainstream media supported all the lies, all the manipulations of George W. Bush and of Tony Blair to convince the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And on this excuse, it was made somewhat palatable to world public opinion that you would enter Iraq and change the government by force. Now, the fact is that here you had not only a crime of aggression, not only an illegal war, as former—the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in more than one occasion, stated. Here you have actually a revolt of 43 states, the “coalition of the willing,” against international law. If there is one tenet of the U.N. Charter that is jus cogens, that is peremptory international law, it’s the prohibition of the use of force. And this attack on Iraq was conducted by 43 states in collusion, breaking all the rules of international law. Now, that was preceded by this media campaign.

Now, we have had, for the last years, actually, a media campaign against Venezuela. And I am particularly familiar with it, because before I went to Venezuela, I had to read everything and all the reports, not only of The Washington Post and of The New York Times, but also the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., proposing that there was a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Now, when I went to Venezuela, I again took the opportunity to interview representatives of Amnesty International and PROVEA and the other opposition NGOs, but I also had the opportunity to study the documents, to compare, to see the statistics, etc., etc. And, of course, there was no humanitarian crisis. There was hunger. There was, what we say in Spanish, zozobra. There was suffering. There was malnutrition, etc., etc. But it’s not just stating that there is an economic crisis. That’s not the crucial point. The crucial point is which are the causes of that so-called humanitarian crisis. And certainly, those who are crying humanitarian crisis should be the least to say that they should now solve the problem. There’s a principle of international law called ex injuria non oritur jus, which is the principle to estoppel. So they should be estopped from demanding regime change when they themselves are the ones who are aggravating a situation, caused initially by the dramatic fall of the oil prices.

I wanted to make a reference to a professor, Pasqualina Curcio, of the University of Caracas. I had the opportunity of seeing her for a couple of hours when I was there. And she published a book called The Visible Hand of the Market. This is a book that documents the financial blockade, documents the whole complex economic war being waged against Venezuela, which reminds you of the economic war that was waged against Salvador Allende. And what’s interesting is, after three years of economic war against Allende not succeeding in toppling Salvador Allende, it took a coup d’état by General Augusto Pinochet, which brought the Chilean people 17 years of dictatorship.

We should be asking ourselves: Do we want a coup d’état in Venezuela? And what legitimacy would the government of Guaidó have? And what kind of elections would be held? Now, there have been, as I said, 26 or 27 elections in Venezuela since 1998. And President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center went repeatedly to Venezuela to monitor those elections. And Carter had a very good opinion of the system and of the safeguards of elections in Venezuela. So, if the opposition really considers itself democratic, it has to play the democratic game, and it has to participate in the elections. They have chosen to boycott the elections over the last years.

And another thing that I think it’s important to notice is that the mainstream media has always presented the opposition as peaceful demonstrators. Now, there are ample videos, photographs of the violence committed by the so-called guarimbas in Venezuela in the years 2014, especially 2017. I had the opportunity of interviewing not only victims of police brutality in Venezuela, but also victims of the guarimbas—persons who were just trying to go from point A to point B, and there was a barricade somewhere, and then they were either killed or they were seriously injured or burned. I interviewed them when I was there.

So, I must say, audiatur et altera pars, let’s listen to both sides, and let us not just concentrate, as the mainstream media does in the United States, on the arguments of the opposition. You also have to take into account the 7, 8 or 9 million Venezuelans, who are human beings, who have democratic rights, who have expressed those democratic rights in their ballot box. And you simply cannot shove them away.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to give Miguel Tinker Salas the last word here, what you expect to see. I mean, what we’ve seen in the past, before, President Chávez, there was almost a coup against him. The military took him; he got free. Same happened in Ecuador with Correa, but he also was able to free himself and continue as president. On the other hand, you had President Aristide in Haiti, proven U.S. links there to the coup. He was flown out. And you had President Zelaya in Honduras. He also was forced out of his position. He did not succeed in maintaining power. What do you think will happen here, Professor Tinker Salas?

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: I think part of what the U.S. is trying to do, and the opposition, is to see if there are fundamental cracks within the military that would facilitate their strategy. That, again, would lead to a coup d’état. That, I think, would not be the best outcome for Venezuela. I insist, if we continue to ratchet up this brinkmanship, we run the risk of exacerbating this crisis and obscene violence. And I think we should try to avoid the violence. I think the best-case solution is to find some process by which negotiations and discussions can take place. We can have cooler heads prevail, and begin to have a conversation in which we recognize the presence of the other. Because if there are elections tomorrow and if the government wins, the opposition will not recognize; if the opposition win, the Chavista supporters will not recognize. That’s a stalemate. We have to be able to break those loggerheads and find solutions in which, long terms, Venezuelans come to term with the presence of the other in society and recognize the humanity of the other and find dialogue and a peaceful solution to this crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Miguel Tinker Salas, professor at Pomona College, author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela and Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know, as well as Alfred de Zayas, joining us from Geneva, Switzerland, former U.N. independent expert, visited Venezuela in 2017 on behalf of the United Nations.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll be joined by an international human rights lawyer, Wolfgang Kaleck. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. He passed away yesterday at the age of 66.

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